Connection, the Power of Community and Interconnectedness

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    During the Covid Era, I experienced real isolation, extreme isolation. Isolation so severe that I’ve been on a mission ever since to ensure no one has to go through what I did for two whole years.  This was a tall order.  I recognised that not everyone has met isolation and many love their own company and feel safe with that.  I used to love my own company, but since covid, I can no longer enjoy my own company, without the company of nature or of other people.  At no point in my life has community been more essential.  I understand, that as humans and mammals, we all need connection, we all need each other.  Zoom, Netflix, social media and even e-mail are not substitutes for Real Connection and face to face communication.  The disconnection is like a modern disease of the human race.   Having spent nearly a decade in Asia, I’ve been challenged in the UK by a very different social culture.  A culture of extreme independence and Having Enough;  a culture of caring for our own and of strong individualism.  In many Asian cultures, particularly in East Asia where I lived and worked, people identify first and foremost with the group, before the individual.  Before living in Asia, I lived many years in ‘socialist Berlin’, where coming together as a community was a normal daily experience.   There are obviously benefits on all sides, but we must ultimately find the balance that works best for us.   I wonder though, if my need for community and connection is just another addictive behaviour?  I wonder too, if I am not just pushing a value onto others?  Where is the line between a need and a service to others?  How can we know when we are working for the good of all and when we are self-serving?

    My experience last April, of coming together at The Big One with XR Buddhists in London,  had made me feel alive again!  I had reconnected with that force that works through me each and every time I am part of something bigger than my individual worries and difficulties.  Like stepping out into Other Power (or the Infinite), into something much bigger, self power (or our limited egoic nature) just melts away and dissolves, like ice in water.  A becoming One Unified Living Breathing Body. On the other hand, I am reflecting that if people each live on their own island, they can only see the vast oceans of separation between them. Building fences around ourselves so high that we can only live with the stories of our own inventions and can’t see the reality beyond.  To me, from my experience, this separation can cause people to become so wrapped up in self power or their own small selves.  How do we break free from our small egoic worlds?  I love the phrase from Gandhi when he implied that, in changing ourselves, we could also change the world.  Yes, people can change on the inside, but starting with my small self, I together with others, can plant seeds, build bridges or grow ways of linking up, bringing people together, like trees reaching out their roots to connect and to communicate beneath the soil.  Gentle connection, respecting space whilst connecting with our roots.  It’s not a forcing or a pushing, but a Surrendering into a more Expansive Awareness of each other.  n Acknowledgment of each other.  A growing in Wholeness.  A finding Strength in Unity.  An Awareness that we are all Interconnected. We are all One. Perhaps I can step aside from the person I think I am and let the Self, or the Buddha, meet all of my difficult parts and offer their unconditional love and healing.  Perhaps, in non dualistic terms, where people aren’t experiencing themselves as individuals, where there is no ‘I’ or ‘we,’ people can rest in a shared space, a space not of Doing but of Being. Resting in Being in gently Expanding Awareness.  People’s roots, like the trees, reaching out into a vast web of interconnection.

    Impermanence, grief and healing

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Ali

    In October last year one of my best friends sadly took her own life. I was devastated and heartbroken and was weighed down with grief.

    Another close friend sent me these words which I will share with you now.

    “ When it comes to grief, remember this –

    You have not broken a bone, there is no default treatment, no cure, no timeline for your healing.
    You cannot strap your heart to the heart next to it and hope it mends itself.
    You cannot rest it for weeks or months.
    You cannot rely on your other heart like you might a leg or an arm.
    You have not broken a bone.
    And yet, like a broken bone, your heart will always now have a vulnerable spot, a bruise, a burn, a scar.
    And just as your arm can still ache after breaking when it has been holding too much for too long, so your heart will ache.
    When it has been holding too much for too long.
    But just as your once broken arm can still hold things and your broken leg can still dance, so your heart will learn to carry you forward,
    Even when it aches.”

    These words brought me great comfort but I was still burdened with grief.
    And then I walked into the temple here in Malvern and my healing really started.

    I was struck by the ways Buddhism provided insight in my grief that was completely different than anything else.
    In Buddhism , impermanence is an inescapable truth of existence. In a world and culture where we strive for permanence (lasting or remaining unchanged).
    Buddhism teaches us that impermanence (lasting or temporarily) is fundamental to everything. From life to health to joy and sorrow to material objects to our very identity, nothing is permanent no matter how much we want it to be. Everything is constantly changing, existence is always in flux.
    Buddhism explains that our attachment to things and failure to accept impermanence is at the root of all suffering.

    As someone who had gone through a significant loss, this idea of impermanence resonated with me immediately. As I read more and thought more, I decided I had two choices. I could try to restore the old life and self that I believed was the real ‘me’ and how things should be. Or I could accept that my loss fundamentally changed me, and we will forever be changing.

    I could pretend I was the same person now but I knew I was not. I had changed and would continue to change. So forcing myself to believe the things that I believed before was not the answer. Instead I needed to focus on the present. One day at a time, one moment at a time. Building awareness of my life – the good, the bad and the ugly, all in flux and ever changing.
    Buddha would remind us that we should not become attached to our path, it will always look different for all of us.

    Joy in change

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Maria

    This week I’ve started my new job. My head has been bursting with all the information on the company and my project, in that respect I’ve been pretty much dropped in the deep from the get go! But even more importantly, I’m now working with the same people I used to work with about two years ago, so there’s been a lot of catching up and emotional trips down the memory lane.

    Today was my first day at the client site, which is located in Coventry. I haven’t really been around Coventry much since my MBA graduation 6 years ago and I pretty much expected to see the same tired grey city centre. What a surprise when I stepped off the train to see a brand new train station building, new shops, refurbished square and a few new office buildings nearby! I realised that I expected Coventry to not have changed at all in 6 years – maybe Coventry also had not expected me to change? Isn’t it strange how we tend to analyse and acknowledge all our progress and achievements, but then we pretty much expect the rest of the world and people to just stay as they are, as we remember them.

    How many times have I formed a negative opinion of someone and not given them a chance again later? Do I always assume it’s just me who’s evolving and everyone else is stagnating? How prejudiced if so. Indeed so much has changed in my life in 6 years. My colleagues probably made the same mistake about me and my life and were surprised to see how much my priorities have changed. I need to give them the courtesy and assume nothing!

    I’ve never been one for nostalgia and looking back. When I was younger, I just thought it was black and white – if you miss someone, go ahead and give them a call! Now I know it’s not as plain as that, yet still I’m weary of looking back. Maybe deep down I know the world is impermanent and there’s a part of me that resists the reaffirmation of that knowledge. There is no going back into the same waters, and even the most solid rocks eventually crumble down into the sea. I think we should learn to find joy in the discovery of how much the familiar is changing every day!

    Permission Slip

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Helen

    There’s been a few times in my life when I’ve heard the voice of God tell me something very
    strongly. It’s generally been when I’ve been doggedly pursuing a path that deep down I’ve
    knows wasn’t right for me but for one reason or another I’ve been ignoring all signs to the
    contrary and determinedly digging my heels in and carrying on blindly, certain that either
    there is no other choice or, in some cases, a breakthrough will come and the path I’m on will
    become the right path if only I work hard enough to make it so.

    Recently I’ve been experiencing some minor, but still upsetting health issues. I’ve various
    tools, in my tool box that I’ve built up over the years to cope when things get tough like this
    and one of them is physical exercise, a little run, a little weight training and then home to
    my biscuit & tea, bliss! The problem is that I’ve noted my lack of motivation to actually
    engage and go to the gym, even though I know I’ll feel better if I do; preferring instead to sit
    on the couch, sneak chocolate past my teen, watch the latest Netflix drop of “Selling
    Sunset” deep into the night and feel sorry for myself.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know this is not unusual. But deep down I’ve also known that this
    isn’t bog standard procrastination (although that is another hobby of mine). Something is
    getting in my way. Something that I’ve not wanted to admit to myself as I feel slightly
    embarrassed by it.

    So, facing a mirror, scanning myself as I sometimes do with my reflection staring back a few
    days ago I asked, why, why are you avoiding the one thing you know makes such a
    difference to your mental health? The answer came loud and clear. BECAUSE YOU HATE
    RUNNING. The shock and relief I felt at saying it out loud was palpable.

    Now, I have said this out loud before, usually, as some kind of joke or quip with friends. But
    Ive never really admitted it to myself before. Typing this now it feels so stupid and minor,
    but its something I feel I SHOULD love, most of the people I know love it, swear by it and
    have assured me that once I get into my stride ill love it too. But after yeas of trying all I ever
    feel is dread at the thought of it and then afterwards serious muscle cramps, nausea and
    light headed. Admitting the truth felt like a weight off my shoulders

    So I’ve taken the opportunity to consider my whole routine and, more importantly, why I do
    it in the first place. The revolutionary conclusion? I QUIT! Instead, a small voice inside of me
    suggested going for a swim.

    So that’s what I did. 30 blissful mins later I was back up on ground level, in the glorious
    sunshine feeling a little achy but refreshed and grateful.

    I’m not even sure if this really counts as a dharma glimpse but taking the time to listen to
    what the divine is trying to tell me about myself has made a small but important change to
    my life this week.

    Namo Amida Bu

    New glasses

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma glimpse by Dave Smith

    My eyesight has been slowly deteriorating for a while now but I never seem to get round to going to an optician. Someone suggested that I should just buy a cheap pair of reading glasses. I bought a pair yesterday, when I got into bed last night I thought I would try them out. I picked up my copy of Nagapryia’s “The promise of a sacred world” and started reading. The words were so much bigger and clearer which is what you would expect, but also I was able to read much faster. I didn’t have to struggle or concentrate in quite the way I usually do, the unexpected consequence was that I was able to understand the text more easily. I didn’t have to read and re-read everything to get the meaning of what Nagapriya was saying. My eyes had literally been opened! It felt almost like a mini awakening!
    Not only could I see more easily, but I could understand the text more easily. It made me want to start meditating more again, and reminded me of the value of having a clear and uncluttered mind.
    Who would have thought that a pair of £1 glasses could improve my spiritual well being?!
    Namo Amida Bu

    What Netflix Taught Me

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Frankie

    Who are our Dharma teachers? Where do Dharma Glimpses happen? In this series of glimpses that I’m writing, my teachers are Netflix, Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, online art courses and groups, my local supermarket, my husband, and more. None of these rich sources have anything to do with Buddhism per se, but they are the koans, the zazen, the Buddhas robes, and Indra’s net; the Dharma of Everyday.

    I was in a Netflix dilemma. Nothing on ‘my list’ was calling to me and I had spent most of the evening scrolling through, well everything. I was in the mood for something from the UK; but I had already seen most of what was available. One series on offer was called ‘Top Boy’ – as I read the synopsis and looked at the cast I dismissed it as not for me. Because it was for ….black people….

    As the thought arose, so did the heat suffusing my face and body.
    It happened that this was at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests and could it only have been that morning I had been reading an article in which it was stated that the most insidiously damaging perceptions were from liberal and left wing white people who considered themselves to not have a racist bone in their bodies? Oh hello Me.

    I was shocked. I allowed myself to think it and then say it. I’m racist and I was one hundred percent unaware of it. How many films and TV series had I rejected for the same reason? I could think of three without even thinking. How many books, fiction and or non fiction? It was extraordinarily horrible and made even more so by the fact that I am insatiably curious about the lives of others. I will set reading themes based on authors from countries I know nothing about. I’m fascinated by immersing myself in cultures, societies and histories not my own.
    And yet…..this country of colour was a place I had never been.
    Top Boy is a brilliant series and I’m eagerly awaiting the final season. I bow deeply to the series and to Netflix for nudging me into an awareness of my own ignorance, bias, privilege and unconscious sense of superiority. I’m not sure that as a white person born into a rich, colonial and racist country whose wealth was made largely through the oppression and exploitation of other nations, let alone its own poor, that I can ever be free of my own racism. And knowing that, I’m grateful, because it serves as a constant reminder that I can never sit back and assume that I understand the issues of others, and how I might, consciously or not, be contributing to them. I am reminded that I need to keep trying to re-educate myself. I need not to ignore issues as not relevant to me. That I’m not necessarily using compassionate action in the most helpful way. That I need to listen to other voices beyond the valley of echoes.

    Living a Small Life

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Alison

    Having a voice can seem like something very normal, but actually it isn’t for everyone.  On returning to England it struck me that we are expected to have a voice and to share ideas, opinions, thoughts and feelings.  In Asia this wasn’t particularly important, unless it was about an action plan, that would harmoniously operate together with a group of people.  Growing up in England I wasn’t allowed to have ideas or opinions – I had to remain silent and obedient.  In this one single respect, you could say, I’ve lived ‘a Small Life’.  Coming to the temple has provided space for thoughts and ideas, without judgement.  Not knowing what people think about your ideas or thoughts can be rather terrifying if you’re not used to it.  I realised just how much I’ve needed to continue my small life (in this way), or when boldly stepping out, how much I’ve needed approval, especially after so much disapproval.  Judgement isn’t the way here, it isn’t a Buddhist, or spiritual, practice.  It can be frightening to speak out without any reassurance or disapproval – did people approve or disapprove of what I said?  I’ve no idea, but I’m hoping that somehow my past conditioning will re-set at some point and it’ll no longer matter.  Do people approve?  Living with that unanswered question can be painful, but we are no longer children (and even children should be able to express themselves without approval!)  We shouldn’t need validation, yet many of us do.  I am not alone here in exclaiming how difficult it can be to not receive judgement, reassurance, disapproval or praise.  And yet – I really don’t want any of those things.  

    The plants and trees just grow.  And we know the expression, that the grass grows by itself.  Ultimately, to be as a tree, to unfurl our leaves and to spread our branches, we can rise up.  The trees, unafraid, greet the sun, which I like to think of as being Amida,  – we can greet Amida’s embrace, just by being, by growing, by not holding back.  We can’t allow self doubts or insecurities stunt our growth anymore – the trees don’t.  The trees simply grow – they could be said to ‘live a Big Life’.  There is only one direction to grow tall, straight and upright – we can only surrender, let go of fears and trust this natural process, no matter how painful it can be.  Growth usually involves pain, but it just happens naturally, if we allow it to.  We need to accept that not everyone will like us, or celebrate us and just be at peace with it all.  The trees just grow tall and we can take inspiration from them, by allowing ourselves to ‘live a Big Life.’  The trees don’t force or push themselves to grow and the trees don’t hold back their growth – they just grow.  This is, in a way, a test of faith, a letting go, an unfolding, a growing in faith – being unafraid to grow, to be, to exist and to say, ‘I am here.’  This unfolding can be an extremely difficult process and speaking for myself, I am painfully aware how deep I am in the mud in my karmic nature – in ‘my Small Life.’  It can take a very long time to reach up tall… to expand.  Despite being in the mud, we might occasionally catch glimpses of the sun’s rays, when we can feel the warmth seeping through.  

    We can simply trust in the process of our own growth.

    Namu Amida Butsu

    More About Impermanence.

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    A Dharma Glimpse by Dayamay

    My car broke down yesterday while I was taking my elderly client shopping. Boot full of bags, middle of a busy street…you know, that sort of thing! I never get used to that feeling of helplessness, when the reality of my dependence on material things, and also, how fragile they are, really hits home.

    I remember the last time it happened was in the centre of Bristol, and as the car came to a grinding halt, in an equally inappropriate place, I became aware of some graffiti, scrawled on the wall, somewhat carelessly, but visible and coherent enough to stop me in my self-obsessed state of panic and capture my attention long enough to completely change my attitude towards the situation.

    The graffiti read:

    “Nothing lasts for ever and all things decay.”

    The irony, coincidence and synchronicity of me breaking down at exactly the spot where somebody had felt inspired to discourse the general public on impermanence, did not escape my attention.

    I hear the word impermanence spoken and the concept invoked quite a lot in my day to day Buddhist centred business. Almost to the extent where it can sort of lose some of its meaning and power. But in this instance, the impact was live, raw and in my face! Like the Universe had identified a lack of comprehension or a detachment on my part from the depth of the principle, and decided to thrust it onto me – in no uncertain terms.
    When physical fact and conceptual understanding coincide, a deeper experience with reality can prevail.

    In Pureland Buddhist terms, I would count this as an ‘Other Power’ intervention. Because, not only did it jolt me out of my self-pity, it helped to align me with a core spiritual teaching that points toward something greater than the relatively trivial everday dramas that I find myself caught up in. It showed me the meaning that is intrinsic to the experience.

    Fortunately, this time I was a bit closer to home and managed to get my client back mercifully quickly. With the help of some kind people (more other power), who went out of their way for us, and in doing so, also showed me how uncomfortable I still am at receiving; I do still like to indulge in the illusion of self-sufficiency, despite many years of training and general life experience, which testify to the contrary.

    So it is in this spirit that I am choosing to approach these latest challenges. It is the action of ‘The Other’ on my life, in my mind and my heart, that brings me the ongoing insight and inspiration, which keeps my faith fresh and my willingness alive.

    Namo Amida Bu.

    All the things I get to do

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Dave Smith

    I’ve recently been in contact with an old school friend who I’ve not seen for about 35 years. She was telling me about how she had to go to the dentist. Her words were “I get to go to the dentist today”, she then went on to explain how she was adjusting her language to include the words “I get to” rather than “I have to”. We joked about it at first but I have since tried to adopt this into my own vocabulary.
    Changing your words can go hand in hand with changing your attitude and the way you think about things. Going to the dentist can seem like a tiresome thing that we “HAVE” to do, its uncomfortable and can be scary and it takes us away from the other things we could be doing instead. The reality is, we don’t have to go to the dentist, we can choose not to, it’s actually a privilege to be able to go to a dentist or a doctor or even to go to the shops.
    Living here in Malvern I get the opportunity to do all these things that many other people don’t get to do and yet sometimes they seem like chores and inconveniences’ and I can become resentful when I should be feeling grateful.
    “I’ve got to go to the dentist next week, I’ve got to go shopping tonight because I’ve got to cook for everyone on Friday and I’ve got to write a Dharma glimpse before tomorrow”
    If I just stop and think and check myself, this becomes…
    “I get to go to the dentist next week to have my teeth checked out by a professional and its on the NHS so it’s not going to cost very much. Then I get to go to a shop of my choice to buy the ingredients for the meal I’m going to cook for all my friends at the temple on Friday, the money will be reimbursed and I have a huge kitchen with an oven and all the cooking utensils I could dream of, then an amazingly spacious dining room in which to dish up with an outstanding view and good company. Finally I have been given the opportunity to write this Dharma glimpse. A chance for me to share my thoughts with like minded people who are willing to listen.”
    None of this is really new to me but sometimes it’s good to be reminded of things that I have forgotten and to be grateful, so thank you to my old school friend for this little glimpse and a reminder to be mindful and thankful for all the things I get to do
    Namo Amida Bu

    Comfort and Challenge

    Categories: buddhism dharma glimpse

    Dharma Glimpse by Philip

    I was on a walk in the hills recently with Dayamay.  It was good to spend some time with him.  And with nature.  All of us together.  I particularly recall a moment being stopped in my tracks over half way through our walk went the sun appeared and shone brightly from behind one of the hills.  I suddenly felt much more fully in touch with nature and dharma.  The birds were singing.  The trees towering.  My heart warmed up.  It was beautiful. 

    But for all that beauty and momentary serenity, it was something more challenging I’m going to try to write about in this dharma exploration.  On our walk Dayamay told me how a recent passage he’d read in the book ‘River of Fire, River of Water’ by Taitetsu Unno had beautifully encapsulated something very profound and important for him.  He eloquently described it and later kindly sent me the exact quote.  It read: 

    “In Japan, traditional Buddhist Monasticism – whether Tendai, Shingon or Zen – aims at the transcendence of earthly passions. Its basic precepts consist of renouncing all family ties, maintaining celibacy, mastering rigorous disciplines, avoiding contact with the opposite sex and engaging in elaborate rituals. In contrast, Pureland is the trans-descendence into the opposite world, the self-awakening to the immersion in the swamp of anger, jealousy, insecurity, fear, addiction, arrogance, hypocrisy…Shin Buddhism comes alive for those who live in the valley and the shadows. It challenges people to discover the ultimate meaning of life in the abyss of the darkness of ignorance…The wonder of this teaching is that liberation is made available to us, not because we are wise but because we are ignorant, limited, imperfect and finite. In the language of Pureland Buddhism, we who are foolish beings are transformed into the very opposite by the power of great compassion.”
    “In the path of stages one perfects wisdom and achieves enlightenment: in the path of Pureland one returns to the foolish self to be saved by Amida.”  (Taitetsu Unno – ‘River of Fire, River of Water’)

    It felt both comforting and challenging.  Comforted that it resonated with both what could be called my developing human and spiritual beliefs.  Which seem roughly equally important at present in my personal and professional worlds.  And perhaps helping me to combine the two more fully and genuinely, something I have struggled to do for a while now.   

    I wonder if Dayamay’s sharing was so opportune and powerful for me because I am perhaps unwittingly facing a bit of a choice at present.  Whether to stay where I am or challenge myself to go deeper.  And perhaps even more importantly which direction ‘deeper’ is; transcending the valley of the shadows to seek liberation and enlightenment or opening myself up to a deeper self-awareness and acceptance of my own ignorance, delusion and limits, and thereby finding the compassion and wisdom just as I am.  Until now, for whatever reason, I just hadn’t clearly seen this distinction between these two strands and schools of Buddhism.  And just what a profound difference it is, or at least seems to be, to me.  I start to believe everyone needs to find their own spiritual path.  And that many roads and paths will take you there.  I hope mine has become a little clearer, if not also a little more challenging, by knowing it might be time to go deeper within Pureland Buddhism by going deeper into self-ignorance, delusion and limitation, and the wider worlds and truths of suffering, humanity, refuge and compassion. 

    Namo Amida Bu.  

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